The Essential Guide
By Deborah Aaronson

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2008 Deborah Aaronson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061491153

Chapter One

Lucky Charms

If you've ever found yourself wondering why something is lucky, wonder no more. Following is a veritable greatest hits of lucky charms—the ones people have relied on for centuries to bring them good fortune. In each case, we've attempted to separate fact from superstition to explain how these charms came to be lucky and, perhaps most importantly, tell how you can use them. Although most of the time the explanations make perfect sense, occasionally the draw of an object or practice defies plausible explanation. Sometimes a lucky charm is, well, just a lucky charm, and either you're drinking the Kool-Aid or holding out for a Diet Coke.


Why it is lucky

Long before magicians used it in vaudeville acts, the word abracadabra was invested with lucky powers. People in search of good fortune were advised to write out the word repeatedly, eliminating some of the letters with each repetition, in the shape of an upside-down triangle. Worn as a charm around the neck, it was believed to bring good luck and to cure any ailment the wearer might be suffering from. Eventually the belief migrated from the written word to the spoken word, and the term was used by magicians accompanied by scantily clad women before pulling a rabbit out of a hat. First mentioned by the Gnostic physician Quintus Serenus Sammonicus in the second century ad, the word may find its origins in Hebrew, some suggest; in Egyptian, others suggest. Explanations are plentiful and all seem equally probable.

How to use it

Although wearing a charm instead of visiting a medical professional is never recommended, abracadabra charms are readily available and may be worn for luck. It's also possible to take a piece of paper, write the words out, fold the paper into the shape of a cross, and then wear that. Bad luck will decrease, and therefore good luck will increase, as the words grow shorter. After nine days, throw the paper over your shoulder into an eastern-flowing river.


Why it is lucky

Some purport that the belief in the luck of the acorn has grown out of the nut's association with the oak tree, which has been considered sacred at least as far back as the Vikings. The oak was closely identified with the god Thor, who was known to ride through the skies during thunderstorms, creating lightning by smashing his hammer. Although trees themselves are great attractors of lightning, it was believed that Thor specifically spared the oak—and its acorns—his wrath. Others believe that Druids made particular use of acorns in divining rituals and wore them as charms for good luck. Others still believe the acorn's lucky properties are related to a much simpler meaning: the triumphant acorn-turned-oak symbolizes tenacity and longevity.

How to use it

Today it's easy to purchase an acorn charm made of silver or gold. Many people believe that carrying a real acorn in your pocket (or pocketbook) is a way to ensure good luck and a long life. An acorn (real or imitation) can also be placed on a windowsill or hung from a window shade to protect a home from undesirable meteorological events. Acorns are also thought to be useful in love divination. Place two in a bowl of water (one is you; the other, the object of your affection). If they float close together, you're headed for the altar.

Beginner's luck

Why it is lucky

We've all experienced winning a game we've never played before or surpassing a well-seasoned competitor our first time around at something. Although some suggest this success stems from the lack of psychological pressure the novice undergoes, we all experience a certain amount of stress when performing a task, even when expectations are low. Lacking a clear, logical explanation as to why a neophyte should excel at something never before attempted, many people simply chalk the phenomenon up to "beginner's luck." Many luck-centered beliefs relate to the significance of the beginning or first of something, whether it's a new year, a new life, a new purchase, or a new business venture. It's not a great leap from there to assume that first-timers at any task would carry with them some of the same lucky potential as these other auspicious firsts do. And lucky for him, the beginner just has to show up.

How to use it

Make sure you take full advantage of your beginner's luck—after all, you only have it once. You can also use someone else's beginner's luck to your own advantage. If you're planning a trip to the casino or have a crucial match to play, invite a newbie friend to join you.


Why it is lucky

Although there's nothing lucky about having a case of the blues, the Bible singles out the color blue as significant, and it endures in both the flag of Israel and as the color most closely associated with the Virgin Mary. It also makes frequent appearances in idiomatic expressions, where "blue blood" is a sign of nobility, and someone who remains loyal is "true blue." And although many of us have only heard the phrase in reference to the children's television program Blue's Clues, the Blue-clue was first and foremost an eighteenth-century love-divination tool involving a clew (skein) of blue yarn, a cauldron, and the belief that the two together would help you identify your true love. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, men were known to wear blue stocking supporters, children blue ribbons around their necks, and women strands of blue beads—all for luck and protection. And, of course, no bride should be without "something blue" to help bring her good fortune.

How to use it

Even if you're not a bride, venturing into any situation wearing something blue is sure to provide luck.


Excerpted from Luck by Deborah Aaronson Copyright © 2008 by Deborah Aaronson. Excerpted by permission.
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